Leaders of the built environment met in Vancouver to discuss challenges and opportunities as we shape the cities of the future.
Much attention was given to new technologies and how we're able to use data to determine the best use of resources and to reduce our sector's effect on the environment. But even more important than collecting and processing data is what happens during the collaboration between stakeholders to ensure processes are adapted to make the best use of the technological solutions available.
One of the panels in Vancouver considered the challenges and opportunities of adopting "contech" – technology designed to be used in the construction phase. This technology is meant to bring efficiencies by tearing down silos between various project components.
Scarcity of land in urban regions adds complexity to projects. Stakeholders may include national, provincial and municipal governments, owners, contractors, subcontractors and residents. With stakeholders' buy-in, the opportunities are great. Without everyone on the same page, we end up with inefficiencies and delays.
It is difficult to come up with a lean and consistent workflow when you have different owners with different processes. We’re pushing hard to get all the folks in the supply chain to work in the digital workflow but if anyone can’t participate in BIM, it all falls apart.
Practice Principal, DIALOG
Sheryl Staub-French is a Professor of Civil Engineering and Goldcorp Professor for Women in Engineering at the University of British Columbia. She stresses the value of taking a close look at the people, process and practice on construction sites. There is value in understanding how people interact and work together to provide more integrated project delivery systems.
"We have to change the way we work if we want to support innovation. Integrated project delivery enables people to collaborate and think of the project as a whole," she said. This collaborative approach harnesses the skills of everyone on the project to effectively reduce waste and maximize efficiency through all phases of the project. Stakeholders come together from the beginning to develop the concept and continue to interact throughout the project to completion.
As technology enables efficiencies and brings changes to the industry, everyone must be on the same page, adopting common terms, agreeing to follow standards and build transparency from the outset. In projects with multiple contractors and subcontractors working together, it can be a struggle to agree to adopt a new technology if people and practices are entrenched in a traditional way of doing things. With multiple stakeholders involved in construction projects, bringing everyone along can be slow.
"It is difficult to come up with a lean and consistent workflow when you have different owners with different processes," explained Jeff DiBattista, Practice Principal at North American design practice DIALOG, which has been transitioning to use BIM since 2007. "We're pushing hard to get all the folks in the supply chain to work in the digital workflow but if anyone can't participate in BIM, it all falls apart."
Making the shift to a new process all comes down to people – they have to be willing to learn something new, explained DiBattista. He admits the shift from 2D to BIM has been a long process with some teams more hesitant to adapt. But educating stakeholders in the benefits of making that leap is well worth the effort. His team relied entirely on BIM for the Calgary Cancer Centre.
Adding to the complexity of the transition to more modern practices, not everyone in the supply chain benefits equally from the adoption of the technology. Despite this inequality, if the owner is educated on the benefits of adopting a new method, the owner can establish the rules of the project from the outset. The owner can set the tone for a willingness to collaborate and even out the playing field for all stakeholders in a project.
"Our clients vary drastically in their maturity and approach to technology," said Aaron Grenier, Director, Estimating and Preconstruction at Ledcor in Vancouver. "We constantly juggle how do we educate clients and work with them to bring it forward to reduce the upfront costs until they appreciate the value of the process."
Once the hurdle of adopting new technology is overcome, solutions are set for the next project. The benefits of the added transparency and the promise of efficiencies are difficult to ignore. And as the workforce becomes increasingly reliant on technology in all aspects of their lives from smart phones to the artificial intelligence built into cars and homes, adoption will continue to become an easier sell.